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Miami Alumni Connect to grow MU network

Miami University's Alumni Association launched Miami Alumni Connect, an online mentorship program, in January. The new program aims to grow the Miami network through mentoring and other purposeful connections between alumni and current students.

Miami Alumni Connect was designed with the help of J.J. Slager, Associate Director of Alumni Career Education and Development.

Slager's position was created in the fall of 2016 with the idea of providing more career opportunities for alumni.

There was already a career advisor for career coaching, but they wanted to hire someone who could organize programming and develop career-related activities for alums.

Some of the programming created under Slager includes monthly online events in the form of Facebook Lives and a program geared toward professional called Miami at the Merc, which is an after-work program in downtown Cincinnati that provides networking and a panel discussion on different topics each quarter.

"But, the major thing I heard when I took over this role was people wanting mentorship," Slager said. "So that kind of became my biggest project, figuring out how to set up mentorship for alums on both sides."

The alumni development team is often working with alumni to get them to donate money, Slager said, but they will sometimes say that they're not in a good position to donate but would like to give back to Miami with their time. Mentorship, he said, would solve that need.

"A lot of people want to just stay connected, and any way that we can keep them connected to Miami and engaged with Miami is good for the long term," Slager said. "We also have alums who want to find mentors and find connections. And, we're always looking to connect alums to students."

Slager said a lot of the students don't know what the Alumni Association does and think it's sole purpose is to collect money after graduation.

"When in fact, everything we do is to try to keep alumni engaged and try to keep them involved in the school," Slager said. "[Alumni] ask about helping students all the time ... But the only way to really make it scalable to where everybody across the world could be involved was through a software system."

Slager looked at several start-ups and demoed eight different companies before deciding on PeopleGrove as their software provider.

"It's kind of a Miami-centered LinkedIn, but one of the reasons we went with People Grove is their very focused on the mentorship piece," Slager said. "I didn't want to just create another social media site because people aren't going to just add this into their daily websites ... We wanted to be very purposeful in that you sign up and it shows you the algorithm and gives you people you've potentially matched with and makes it very easy to make that connection and set up a conversation."

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Miami Alumni Connect officially launched in January to alumni. They sent out two emails and had over 2,500 people join since them.

"These are all alumni who've basically heard the call to action," Slager said. "They've put their hand up and said 'yes' and filled out a profile and put themselves as available to be a mentor."

Melissa Fisher, Miami alumna ('81) and member of the Alumni Board of Directors, was among the first to join the mentorship program. She joined to mentor younger alumni, as others had once helped and mentored her, and she saw it as a way to network with alumni her age, as well.

"I think there's always a sense of giving back," Fisher said. "Especially if you, as I do, have very fond memories and feel close to Miami and the Miami community, it's a way of giving back and to stay involved."

As part of the board of directors, Fisher spoke with other alumni and helped conduct a survey to see what they felt was most important.

"We saw that young alums want to find mentors and stay connected to the university in that way ... and to get career advice and career planning thoughts," Fisher said. "We saw that older alums really want to stay involved and give back and help younger people."

The next step is to get Miami students on board and let them know that there are alumni waiting and willing to give them advice.

"If we could get 10,000 alums on and active, that's a big picture high number goal," he said. "Students, I haven't quite figured out what a good goal would be. I was kind of thinking about a quarter of the students, so around 3,000 would be amazing, but I'm not sure if that will happen. We'll see."

What Slager is really looking forward to is hearing about the individual connections and hearing stories from both alumni and current students using the site.

"I think that will be even more satisfying when to hear somebody say, 'I connected with this person and they helped me figure out what to do with my major and how to prepare myself for the work force and now I got this job,'" Slager said. "Those are the kinds of stories which I know will happen. I'm really excited to see that."